"The Lumber Room" is a humorous short story by the British author Hector Hugh Munro who wrote under the pseudonym of Saki. The story first appeared in the Morning Post newspaper. It was later collected in the 1914 anthology Beasts and Super-Beasts.
In the story, a boy named Nicholas is punished by his strict aunt for putting a frog in his bowl of bread-and-milk at breakfast. He is grounded while his brother and their cousins go out on an afternoon excursion. As further punishment, he is told to stay out of the gooseberry garden. Convinced that Nicholas will disobey her, the aunt puts herself on sentry duty in the garden. Nicholas, however, has a better plan for the afternoon. He intends to sneak into the mysterious lumber room which is always kept locked.
H.H. Munro and his siblings were raised by two very strict aunts. Many of Munro's stories feature clever children taking revenge on authoritarian adults. His sister Ethel, who wrote the Biography of Saki (1924), stated that the character of the aunt in "The Lumber Room" was "Aunt Augasta to the life."
A fifteen-minute radio play based on "The Lumber Room" was produced as the first episode of the five-part mini-series of Saki dramatizations Claw Marks on the Curtain. The play first aired on BBC Radio 4 on May 2, 2005. The story was also adapted as the second of three segments of the 2007 BBC television movie Who Killed Mrs De Ropp?
Nicholas, his younger brother, and their two cousins live with the cousins' tyrannical aunt. Nicholas is "in disgrace" today because he refused to eat his bread-and-milk at breakfast. He told the aunt that there was a frog in his bowl of bread-and-milk, but she would not believe him. She eventually saw that there was indeed a frog in his bowl. She was not pleased, however, to find out that Nicholas had put it there himself.
As punishment, the aunt decides to keep Nicholas home and send the other children to Jagborrough Cove to play on the sands. She thinks Nicholas will be sorry to miss the fun outing, but Nicholas does not mind staying home. He knows the children will not enjoy themselves because his girl-cousin scraped her knee on her way out and Bobby's boots are too tight.
After the children leave, the aunt tells Nicholas to stay out of the gooseberry garden as further punishment. Convinced that Nicholas will try to get into the garden just because he was told not to, she then positions herself in the front garden where she can watch the doors to the gooseberry garden. Nicholas makes a couple of attempts to sneak by his aunt just to confirm her suspicions. He then slips back into the house and steals the key to the lumber room. He has long wished to see what is inside the mysterious lumber room which is always kept locked.
Inside the lumber room, Nicholas is delighted to find all sorts of fantastic treasures. His aunt keeps her home undecorated, and she stores away all the nice things so as not to spoil them. Nicholas is fascinated by a framed tapestry depicting a hunter with a stag he has shot with an arrow. He wonders if the huntsman sees the wolves coming towards him and whether the man and his dogs will be able to cope with them. He then goes on to examine other interesting objects in the room; decorative candlesticks, a duck-shaped teapot, a box full of brass figures, and a captivating book full of colorful illustrations of exotic birds.
After some time, the aunt becomes suspicious of Nicholas' long absence and starts searching for him. Nicholas hears her calling for him in the gooseberry garden pretending to see him hiding there. He then hears her shriek and cry out for help. He goes out of the lumber room, locks the door, and returns the key. He then saunters over to the front garden to answer the call. From the other side of the wall, the aunt tells Nicholas that she has fallen into the empty rain-water tank and cannot get out. She then tells him to bring a ladder to her. Nicholas reminds her that he is not allowed to enter the gooseberry garden. The aunt countermands the order, but Nicholas pretends he does not believe it is his aunt speaking to him. He says he thinks the Evil One is trying to tempt him to disobey his aunt. When she agrees to have strawberry jam for tea if he will bring the ladder, Nicholas declares it cannot be his aunt speaking because she told him previously that there was no jam left. Having sufficiently enjoyed himself, Nicholas walks away. The aunt is later found and rescued by the kitchen maid.
In the evening, the tea is taken in silence. The children are unhappy after a miserable outing. The tide was high so there was no sand to play on, and Bobby was in a terrible temper because of his tight boots. The aunt maintains a "frozen muteness." Nicholas is also silent, absorbed in his thoughts. He thinks that the huntsman may escape while the wolves are feasting on the stag.
- ↑ A lumber room was a storeroom for unused furniture and household items commonly found in large British homes.
- ↑ Other episodes of the 2005 BBC radio mini-series Claw Marks on the Curtain, all dramatized by Roger Davenport, are based on "The Schartz-Metterklume Method", "Fur", ""The Toys of Peace", and "The Open Window".
- ↑ The other two segments of Who Killed Mrs De Ropp? are based on the short stories "The Story-Teller" and "Sredni Vashtar".